A higher education bill working its way through Congress is generating a lot of backlash for its conservative social agenda. As the New York Times reports, the 590-page bill, known as the PROSPER Act, features portions that would allow religious colleges from exerting their beliefs on the student body. Specifically, religious colleges could even bar same-sex relationships without repercussions.
David Stacy, who is the government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, criticizes the bill for its discrimination. He notes that its rules would expand to even larger colleges, like Notre Dame, who are religiously-affiliated but attract a diverse student base. “You’re not just talking about a little Bible college,” he said. “When you think about Catholic universities, there are a lot of those, and quite a few of these universities would discriminate against same-sex student relationships.”
On the other end of the spectrum, conservatives defend the bill as reflecting their freedoms of thought and belief. “Colleges and universities, both public and private, have long been considered environments that support robust debate and freedom, and Republican members of Congress share that belief and are sending a message to the higher education community that these important issues cannot be ignored,” Michael Woeste, a spokesman for Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina (who is the chairwoman of the House education committee) said in a statement.
Rep. Foxx is the person who sponsored the bill and introduced it in the House on December 1, 2007.
Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, says that discriminating a behavior is not the same as discriminating a student. “There’s a huge difference between discriminating against behavior and discriminating against a person." His college’s handbook in particular, forbids behavior like “sexual identity outside of the scriptural expectation" including "homosexual P.D.A."
Other portions of the bill include rules like stopping colleges from punishing fraternities and sororities for refusing to admit members of the opposite sex. According to an op-ed in The Huffington Post, there are also effects in the Act about higher education loans and interest rates that are garnering backlash.